Tim Spangler, UCAR (retired)

Tim Spangler, UCAR (retired)

Please include details about your educational background and what sparked your interest in atmospheric or related sciences. 

BS Meteorology University of Wisconsin
MS Atmospheric Science, University of Wyoming
PhD Bio-meteorology, Utah State University

What was your first job in the field and how did you end up in the job you are in now?     

My first job after the masters was with North American Weather Consultants working on air pollution monitoring and prediction, and also some work on weather modification. This was an exciting job doing field research: driving 4X4 trucks, riding in helicopters, serving in right seat on research flights - about 1/3 of my work was outdoors and I loved it.

What opportunities did you pursue that you knew would be beneficial to securing a job in the profession?     

I think that everyone should have something they bring to an employer that is an added skill like a minor in math, a minor in computer science, electronics, finance, language, etc. My added skill was aviation - understanding aviation, having my pilot's license and instrument rating, and being able to talk aviation with clients. This has actually served me well for a 40 year career. The last year at UCAR, I was still using my aviation background. Not to be a pilot although I did that occasionally, but to understand aviation, understand how to use aircraft, how the aviation system works etc.

What other courses/skills beyond the required math and science courses do you think would be the most helpful to individuals wanting a career in your profession? 

I spent 15 years in the private sector, was a professor for 5 years, and worked for UCAR/NCAR for over 20 years. Besides the obvious skills like math and computer science, I found that language skills for international work and understanding finance was useful in my private sector career. Throughout my entire career though, public speaking was a skill I had to develop and then use for the entire time. Repetition is the best approach and teaching 6-9 times per week really made me comfortable. I shouldn't forget writing - you write nearly every day.

What is your typical day on the job like?

Depends where in my career: in the private sector, you have to blend actually doing projects for clients with writing proposals for the next client funding. As a professor, teaching was the focus of course but perhaps the most enjoyable times were working closely with students. In my UCAR job, I lead the COMET Program developing continuing education for weather forecasting worldwide. A typical day included meeting to plan a training module or lesson, working with NOAA on funding and requirements, welcoming a class to COMET, serving on committees for UCAR, and soliciting new funding. Sadly perhaps, the need to constantly raise funds became more and more the focus of my job. The most fun part was working with a talented staff and making sure they had what was needed to succeed.

What do you like most about your job? What is the most challenging thing about your job?  

Since I am retired, canoeing is my favorite thing. But looking back, I particularly enjoyed my work with the World Meteorological Organization. International travel, diplomatic negotiations, working in multiple languages is exhausting but really rewarding. I traveled to over 35 countries in my work, and was able to represent the USA in formal proceedings in Geneva as well. In fact I went to Geneva over 30 times and love the city and the WMO - just not the jet lag. Today I have about 150 Facebook friends and nearly half are international.

Does your job allow for a good work/life balance? If not, why?    

Yes and no. I had the ability usually to schedule travel and work so that I could do things like coach soccer. But my work also kept me away part of all of many weekends. So I felt like I missed a lot of events with my kids - but - I also gave them a tremendous appreciation for the world by including them in some travel. Both accompanied me to Russia, Finland, Geneva, Kenya, etc at various times and when I ask them now about it all, they say that their memories of growing up are all good - none of their friends got to go to Korea or the Serengeti.

Over the course of your career what is the most exciting thing that has happened to you?

I was asked to introduce a resolution about gender equality in education during the 2007 World Meteorological Association Congress. In the huge Geneva UN assembly hall, I heard the speaker say "the chair recognizes the United States of America" and that was me - my absolute thrill. I have had an exciting career and can't list all the events but another is being flown onto the Aircraft Carrier Nimitz or briefing the CIA on terrorist threats or landing in a helicopter on high terrain in Utah. If I got started listing them all, I couldn't stop. One day, I asked a 14 year old friend of my son whether he would want to be a meteorologist. His answer was "No", I want to be able to travel - of course my son broke out laughing.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?    

Worked harder at mathematics earlier, spent more time on public speaking earlier, and learned a language. I would have been smart to have majored in mathematics before going for the MS

What are some ‘must haves’’ on a resume if a person wants to gain employment in your field?    

This is changing all the time so I hesitate as a retired meteorologist with training from 30 and 40 years ago. But my absolute advice is always to

a) have more than one skill - get a minor in addition to your major
b) look for jobs that are related while you are in school - internships - anything
c) be willing to relocate early in your career and don't hop around but having jobs with increasing responsibility every 3-4 years is smart
d) believe in yourself and love what you do